SBJ/July 18-22, 2011/Opinion

Rangers’ actions win trust

How you see it

On the day Derek Jeter celebrated his 3,000th hit, ESPN.com posted competing headlines detailing a player’s DUI charge, accusations of gay slurs by two athletes, a stabbing, a recruiting scandal and, of course, the NFL labor dispute. All are complex matters requiring a sound crisis communications platform. Unprepared responses by athletes, coaches and sports executives often result in spectacular breakdowns and failures that can enflame matters and, ultimately, erode faith.

The heartbreaking case of a Texas Rangers fan falling to his death while catching a foul ball tossed to him by the franchise’s iconic star, Josh Hamilton, on July 7 required nothing less than an urgent and elite crisis communications response. Under exceptionally difficult circumstances, the Rangers delivered.

Team President Nolan Ryan took command, and questions, in a postgame news conference. Hamilton followed suit by sharing thoughts with reporters. A trust fund was established on the Rangers’ website. Stadium officials were accessible and informed. Response was swift. Above all, it was accountable and believable.

In any crisis, the immediate response often determines how you are judged and how successful your strategy will ultimately become. Rather than close ranks behind a series of statements — unfortunately, a common approach to addressing sports crisis scenarios — the Rangers called on the two men considered to be the face of the franchise. As impressive, Ryan and Hamilton followed by revealing their soul. It’s not the easiest remedy, but perhaps it will provide the sports industry with a crisis communications template to consider in the future.

Jim Woodcock
St. Louis

Woodcock is senior vice president with Fleishman-Hillard.

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